Fire set at family dinner claims third victim

/ Source: The Associated Press

The mother of a Puerto Rican man accused of setting fire to more than a dozen family members and a visiting U.S. woman as they sat down for a New Year's dinner died Tuesday, the third victim of the brutal attack to do so.

At least other four people remain hospitalized, including 25-year-old Kate Donahue of Seattle and her fiance, Jesus Sanchez, both with burns over more than 80 percent of their bodies, hospital spokeswoman Wilmelis Marquez said.

The couple had traveled to the U.S. Caribbean territory for the holidays so Donahue could meet Sanchez's family, said Austin Martin, a friend of Donahue's who is a pastor in Arizona. The suspect in the attack — apparently using gasoline and kerosene — is a 45-year-old uncle of Sanchez who lived in the house.

Donahue's family flew to Puerto Rico shortly after they got the news, Martin said in a phone interview.

"They've been able to see her, but she's been put in a medically induced coma, so they haven't been able to speak with her," he said.

Friends of the couple set up a Facebook account and asked for donations to help pay for medical transport back to Seattle. "It is a long road ahead to heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually," states the page.

Donahue works as a nurse for Group Health, according to her Facebook page. Sanchez is a Boeing engineer, according to The Seattle Times.

Two other members of the Sanchez family are hospitalized with burns on about 60 percent of their bodies, while two others have died, including a 17-year-old niece and a 32-year-old cousin of suspect Justino Sanchez Diaz, Marquez said.

The blaze occurred Saturday in the central mountain town of Florida, where Sanchez Diaz lives in a two-story house with his parents and a sister, said Police Lt. Reinaldo Jimenez.

Sanchez Diaz had doused the walls of the house with gasoline and set canisters filled with fuel under the dining room table and other furniture, he said.

"He planned the party so that everyone would show up," Jimenez said.

As soon as the 14 people sat down for an early dinner on Jan. 1, Sanchez emerged from his room armed with a 20-pound container of propane gas and doused them with kerosene, Jimenez said witnesses told police.

He then set them on fire using a stick wrapped with a towel soaked in fuel, Jimenez said.

Police and firefighters later found him in a bathroom where he had filled the tub and sink with water, he said.

Prosecutors expected to charge Sanchez Diaz late Tuesday with his mother's death. It is unclear if he has an attorney. The phone went unanswered at the offices of Puerto Rico's Legal Assistance Association.

Sanchez Diaz has had run-ins with his family in the past, and about five years ago he set a hen house in the back of the home that belonged to his brother on fire, Jimenez said.

Since the blaze, Sanchez Diaz has refused to eat or talk about a possible motive.

"He has maintained total silence," Jimenez said.